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Trapped in Beirut
A first-hand account of how the Israeli strikes have traumatised Beirut asks why the EU and America have done so little to help Lebanon
Just two days ago, this city had blown away every preconception of the Middle East that a westerner could hold. The 17-year civil war had left scars, of course - terracotta French Mandate buildings, complete with ornate balconies, were riddled with the pockmarks of shelling and sniper fire. Yet like remnants of a childhood disease, the markers resembled memories that were being pushed far away.
The Beirut I have seen seemed, until yesterday, to be a place of dreams coming true. Its residents, toned and coiffeured amid the rose-flavoured haze of narghileh smoke, make looking good an art form. Nowhere in the west can quite compete with the glitz and razzmatazz the like of a night out here. Young Beirutis everywhere speak in east coast American accents, mingled with the French of a bygone era, blended with the local lilting Arabic. Downtown has been rebuilt with such speedy finesse that one marvels at the Lebanese ability to move on to the good life and forget the armed militias and shelled-out buildings once housed there.
Last Sunday this city was caught up in a friendlier battle. The Lebanese, without their own national team in the World Cup Finals, had taken ardent sides with other national sides and the city seemed roughly divided between supporters of Italy, France and Brazil. People were still fixated on whether Zizou had responded to vicious taunts from Materazzi when the news filtered in that Hezbollah had taken two Israeli soldiers.